Time is Running Out for Coronavirus Course Correction

Let's begin with a fact that undoubtedly contradicts the hysterics that you've routinely heard about the viral pandemic of 2020 — COVID-19 is anything but an indiscriminate killer of those infected by it.

A new study, released by the CDC on July 10, finds that the median age of death where COVID-19 is involved is 78.  Mathematically, what this means is that half of the people who have died with COVID-19 were over the age of 78, while the other half who have died were younger than 78.

That might sound normal, given that 78 is the statistical life expectancy for Americans.  But we can glean vital information about the actual threat of COVID-19 from that statistic alone.  Data show that there are around 22 million Americans who are 75 or older living in America.  This means that roughly seven percent of our population (of ~328 million) is over the age of 75, and this logically yields an assumption that the other 93 percent is south of that age. 

Here's the first of a few inconvenient yet undeniable truths.  Half of the deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred among less than seven percent of the population, and the other half occurred among the other 93 percent of the population.  Already, we have a pretty good idea as to who is most at risk when it comes to the risks of infection.

But we can actually demographically narrow down COVID-19 victims much more closely than that.  Not only are those dying with COVID-19 often quite old, but they're usually very unhealthy as well.  According to this same CDC study, over 75 percent of those who've died with COVID-19 had one or more "underlying medical conditions," and over half of them had two or more such conditions, defined in the study's footnotes as "cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease (including end-stage renal disease), neurologic conditions, immunosuppression, chronic liver conditions, or obesity."  All of these, it should be noted, can be life-threatening conditions, even without the introduction of a novel coronavirus.

This is all critical information that's often been left out of the media's breathless reporting throughout the spring and summer about how everyone might die if young or healthy people are allowed to visit bars or restaurants.

Here's another crucial bit of information that you won't often hear.  According to the New York Times, 42 percent of all COVID-19 deaths occurred among those who were "at some 14,000" nursing homes in America.  Separate data from the CDC show that, in 2016, only 1.3 million Americans lived in America's 15,600 nursing homes. 

Let's recap what the available data have shown us so far.  Those dying of COVID-19 are overwhelmingly very old and most often very unhealthy, and nearly half of them lived in nursing homes, where less than one-half of one percent of our country's population lives.  Though the media seem uninterested in reporting any of that, we know well, and as near to precision as we might expect in a viral pandemic, whom COVID-19 actually kills. 

Equally well, the data show us whom it does not kill.

Provisional data on COVID-19 deaths can be downloaded at the CDC, and my recent observations in perusing that data are worth noting in today's environment, where there are widespread suggestions not to open our children's schools for classes in the fall.

Consider the below data, the most recent on the CDC website:

Age Demographic

Sum of COVID-19 Deaths (2/1/20 through 7/8/20)

Under 1 year

9

1–4 years

7

5–14 years

14

15–24 years

149

25–34 years

795

35–44 years

2,026

45–54 years

5,650

55–64 years

13,808

65–74 years

23,866

75–84 years

30,369

85 years and over

38,048

Total COVID-19 Deaths

114,741

We notice that roughly four in five deaths occur over the age of 65.  That's consistent with, say, influenza deaths in 2017–18.  But a quick look at the other side of the spectrum yields what may be surprising conclusions that contradict the media narrative that your friends and neighbors may have imbibed wholesale.

Between the ages of zero and 24, we find that there has been a sum of 179 provisional COVID-19 deaths.  None of this is meant to diminish the tragedy of these deaths, I want to be clear.  But despite the much higher number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 2020 than we'd find in an example of a bad flu season like 2017–2018, we find that this number of deaths among youth demographics is strikingly low by comparison.

The CDC's age demographic breakdown of 2017–18 flu season deaths is not identical to the COVID-19 data, but it's informative.  In that flu season, influenza is estimated to have killed 643 children between the ages of zero and 17.  

Age Demographic

Estimated Number of Influenza Deaths (2017-18)

0–4 years

115

5–17 years

528

18–49 years

2,803

50–64 years

6,751

65 years and older

50,903

Total Influenza Deaths

61,100

This comparison excludes the 18–24 age demographic for tallying estimated influenza deaths, yet despite the generous comparison, more than three times as many children aged zero to 17 are estimated to have died of influenza in 2017–18 than have died with COVID-19 in the child/young adult statistical age category of zero to 24 so far in 2020.

What this all tells us isn't the answer to some mystery.  We know, specifically, who is statistically at risk and who is not statistically at risk.  If you're older, or have serious underlying medical conditions, or live in a nursing home, you're far more likely to die from COVID-19 infection than a healthy person visiting a bar or restaurant or a child going to school. 

In an article that I've referenced several times (here, here, here), noted epidemiologist Dr. David Katz didn't need to see all these data I've referenced to give America the prescription we needed back on March 20 in the New York Times.  Using only very early American data and foreign data (the best of which came from South Korea), he concluded that our data were "entirely aligned with data from other countries."  He continued:

The deaths have been mainly clustered among the elderly, those with significant chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, and those in both groups.

This is not true of infectious scourges such as influenza.  The flu hits the elderly and chronically ill hard, too, but it also kills children[.] ...

The clustering of complications and death from Covid-19 among the elderly and chronically ill, but not children (there have been only very rare deaths in children), suggests that we could achieve the crucial goals of social distancing — saving lives and not overwhelming our medical system — by preferentially protecting the medically frail and those over age 60, and in particular those over 70 and 80, from exposure.

He suggests that we should not shut down schools or the economy, favoring a more "surgical" approach of protecting those most at risk.  In an incident of pure prescience, he writes:

There is another and much overlooked liability in this [social and economic lockdown] approach.  If we succeed in slowing the spread of coronavirus from torrent to trickle, then when does the society-wide disruption end?  When will it be safe for healthy children and younger teachers to return to school, much less older teachers and teachers with chronic illnesses?  When will it be safe for the work force to repopulate the workplace, given that some are in the at-risk group for severe infection?

When would it be safe to visit loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals?  When once again might grandparents pick up their grandchildren?

There are many possible answers, but the most likely one is: We just don't know.  We could wait until there's an effective treatment, a vaccine or transmission rates fall to undetectable levels.  But what if those are a year or more away?  Then we suffer the full extent of societal disruption the virus might cause for all those months.  The costs, not just in money, are staggering to contemplate.

So what is the alternative?  Well, we could focus our resources on testing and protecting, in every way possible, all those people the data indicate are especially vulnerable to severe infection: the elderly, people with chronic diseases and the immunologically compromised.

We failed to heed this advice back in March.  It's too late now to avoid many of the "staggering costs" of this calamitous policy failure that Americans will lament for decades to come.  Fairly or unfairly, it will be President Trump whom future generations will associate with this epic calamity.  There's little that can be done about any of that now.  But all of the observed data available today only strengthen Dr. Katz's assertions and early policy prescriptions.  For the sake of our parents, our children, and countrymen who are suffering from this unprecedented "societal disruption," we need to wake up from the media's trance, observe the reality in front of our eyes, and act upon his sage advice immediately. 

If Trump is wise, he'll sideline Dr. Fauci, who's been wrong about virtually everything, and follow the advice of Dr. Katz, who appears to have been wrong about nothing so far.

Let's begin with a fact that undoubtedly contradicts the hysterics that you've routinely heard about the viral pandemic of 2020 — COVID-19 is anything but an indiscriminate killer of those infected by it.

A new study, released by the CDC on July 10, finds that the median age of death where COVID-19 is involved is 78.  Mathematically, what this means is that half of the people who have died with COVID-19 were over the age of 78, while the other half who have died were younger than 78.

That might sound normal, given that 78 is the statistical life expectancy for Americans.  But we can glean vital information about the actual threat of COVID-19 from that statistic alone.  Data show that there are around 22 million Americans who are 75 or older living in America.  This means that roughly seven percent of our population (of ~328 million) is over the age of 75, and this logically yields an assumption that the other 93 percent is south of that age. 

Here's the first of a few inconvenient yet undeniable truths.  Half of the deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred among less than seven percent of the population, and the other half occurred among the other 93 percent of the population.  Already, we have a pretty good idea as to who is most at risk when it comes to the risks of infection.

But we can actually demographically narrow down COVID-19 victims much more closely than that.  Not only are those dying with COVID-19 often quite old, but they're usually very unhealthy as well.  According to this same CDC study, over 75 percent of those who've died with COVID-19 had one or more "underlying medical conditions," and over half of them had two or more such conditions, defined in the study's footnotes as "cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease (including end-stage renal disease), neurologic conditions, immunosuppression, chronic liver conditions, or obesity."  All of these, it should be noted, can be life-threatening conditions, even without the introduction of a novel coronavirus.

This is all critical information that's often been left out of the media's breathless reporting throughout the spring and summer about how everyone might die if young or healthy people are allowed to visit bars or restaurants.

Here's another crucial bit of information that you won't often hear.  According to the New York Times, 42 percent of all COVID-19 deaths occurred among those who were "at some 14,000" nursing homes in America.  Separate data from the CDC show that, in 2016, only 1.3 million Americans lived in America's 15,600 nursing homes. 

Let's recap what the available data have shown us so far.  Those dying of COVID-19 are overwhelmingly very old and most often very unhealthy, and nearly half of them lived in nursing homes, where less than one-half of one percent of our country's population lives.  Though the media seem uninterested in reporting any of that, we know well, and as near to precision as we might expect in a viral pandemic, whom COVID-19 actually kills. 

Equally well, the data show us whom it does not kill.

Provisional data on COVID-19 deaths can be downloaded at the CDC, and my recent observations in perusing that data are worth noting in today's environment, where there are widespread suggestions not to open our children's schools for classes in the fall.

Consider the below data, the most recent on the CDC website:

Age Demographic

Sum of COVID-19 Deaths (2/1/20 through 7/8/20)

Under 1 year

9

1–4 years

7

5–14 years

14

15–24 years

149

25–34 years

795

35–44 years

2,026

45–54 years

5,650

55–64 years

13,808

65–74 years

23,866

75–84 years

30,369

85 years and over

38,048

Total COVID-19 Deaths

114,741

We notice that roughly four in five deaths occur over the age of 65.  That's consistent with, say, influenza deaths in 2017–18.  But a quick look at the other side of the spectrum yields what may be surprising conclusions that contradict the media narrative that your friends and neighbors may have imbibed wholesale.

Between the ages of zero and 24, we find that there has been a sum of 179 provisional COVID-19 deaths.  None of this is meant to diminish the tragedy of these deaths, I want to be clear.  But despite the much higher number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 2020 than we'd find in an example of a bad flu season like 2017–2018, we find that this number of deaths among youth demographics is strikingly low by comparison.

The CDC's age demographic breakdown of 2017–18 flu season deaths is not identical to the COVID-19 data, but it's informative.  In that flu season, influenza is estimated to have killed 643 children between the ages of zero and 17.  

Age Demographic

Estimated Number of Influenza Deaths (2017-18)

0–4 years

115

5–17 years

528

18–49 years

2,803

50–64 years

6,751

65 years and older

50,903

Total Influenza Deaths

61,100

This comparison excludes the 18–24 age demographic for tallying estimated influenza deaths, yet despite the generous comparison, more than three times as many children aged zero to 17 are estimated to have died of influenza in 2017–18 than have died with COVID-19 in the child/young adult statistical age category of zero to 24 so far in 2020.

What this all tells us isn't the answer to some mystery.  We know, specifically, who is statistically at risk and who is not statistically at risk.  If you're older, or have serious underlying medical conditions, or live in a nursing home, you're far more likely to die from COVID-19 infection than a healthy person visiting a bar or restaurant or a child going to school. 

In an article that I've referenced several times (here, here, here), noted epidemiologist Dr. David Katz didn't need to see all these data I've referenced to give America the prescription we needed back on March 20 in the New York Times.  Using only very early American data and foreign data (the best of which came from South Korea), he concluded that our data were "entirely aligned with data from other countries."  He continued:

The deaths have been mainly clustered among the elderly, those with significant chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, and those in both groups.

This is not true of infectious scourges such as influenza.  The flu hits the elderly and chronically ill hard, too, but it also kills children[.] ...

The clustering of complications and death from Covid-19 among the elderly and chronically ill, but not children (there have been only very rare deaths in children), suggests that we could achieve the crucial goals of social distancing — saving lives and not overwhelming our medical system — by preferentially protecting the medically frail and those over age 60, and in particular those over 70 and 80, from exposure.

He suggests that we should not shut down schools or the economy, favoring a more "surgical" approach of protecting those most at risk.  In an incident of pure prescience, he writes:

There is another and much overlooked liability in this [social and economic lockdown] approach.  If we succeed in slowing the spread of coronavirus from torrent to trickle, then when does the society-wide disruption end?  When will it be safe for healthy children and younger teachers to return to school, much less older teachers and teachers with chronic illnesses?  When will it be safe for the work force to repopulate the workplace, given that some are in the at-risk group for severe infection?

When would it be safe to visit loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals?  When once again might grandparents pick up their grandchildren?

There are many possible answers, but the most likely one is: We just don't know.  We could wait until there's an effective treatment, a vaccine or transmission rates fall to undetectable levels.  But what if those are a year or more away?  Then we suffer the full extent of societal disruption the virus might cause for all those months.  The costs, not just in money, are staggering to contemplate.

So what is the alternative?  Well, we could focus our resources on testing and protecting, in every way possible, all those people the data indicate are especially vulnerable to severe infection: the elderly, people with chronic diseases and the immunologically compromised.

We failed to heed this advice back in March.  It's too late now to avoid many of the "staggering costs" of this calamitous policy failure that Americans will lament for decades to come.  Fairly or unfairly, it will be President Trump whom future generations will associate with this epic calamity.  There's little that can be done about any of that now.  But all of the observed data available today only strengthen Dr. Katz's assertions and early policy prescriptions.  For the sake of our parents, our children, and countrymen who are suffering from this unprecedented "societal disruption," we need to wake up from the media's trance, observe the reality in front of our eyes, and act upon his sage advice immediately. 

If Trump is wise, he'll sideline Dr. Fauci, who's been wrong about virtually everything, and follow the advice of Dr. Katz, who appears to have been wrong about nothing so far.